With the launch of the new Sprinter Mercedes has proclaimed it is embracing a fresh philosophy to guide how it brings its vans to market.
This involves undergoing a transformation from being merely a vehicle manufacturer into becoming “a provider of transport and mobility solutions”, with the brand directly offering van rental and sharing solutions as well as outright purchase.
Central to this approach, which it says is driven by the need to meet the demands created by online shopping, is the brand’s Advance strategy, (‘adVANce’ in Mercedes’ branding), which focuses on improving connectivity between drivers and fleet managers and places the Sprinter squarely within the Internet of Things.
At the heart of the strategy is Pro Connect, a sophisticated telematics fleet management system that allows assignments to be managed online and information about a van, such as location, fuel level or maintenance requirements to be retrieved almost in real time.
Packages within Pro Connect include Vehicle Supervision (which displays data and vehicle usage over a defined period), Vehicle Operations (covering location and geofencing), Fleet Communications, Maintenance Management, Eco Monitoring, Theft Management (which monitors the alarm and pre-defined geofencing to warn against possible thefts), and a digital driver’s logbook.
Mercedes has developed a new nine-speed automatic gearbox for the FWD Sprinter, which is also available with a six-speed manual gearbox.
We tested an L2H1 (medium wheelbase/standard roof) FWD Sprinter 314 CDI with a gross vehicle weight of 3.5t. It was powered by the 2.1-litre engine, with an output of 143hp and maximum torque of 330Nm from 1,200-2,400rpm, wedded to the nine-speed auto transmission. FWD vans are also available with 114hp and 177hp versions of this unit while Mercedes offers a 3.0-litre 190hp engine in RWD.
Making its debut on the new Sprinter is Distronic Active Distance Assist, which can be activated from 12mph, and other options include a 360° parking camera, lane-keeping assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Traffic Sign Assist.
Another new option is Drive Away Assist, which prevents the driver from accelerating towards stationary objects when negotiating tight spaces by issuing a warning and restricting speed to around 2mph. It is likely to prevent dents and dings for delivery drivers when exiting parking bays, for example.
Much like VW with its latest Crafter, Mercedes exhaustively canvassed its customers to find out what they need and the result is a model range of 1,700 Sprinter variants spanning eight body types. But despite this wealth of choice and features designed to meet current and future market demands, of most interest to operators is likely to be Mercedes’ introduction of front-wheel drive to the Sprinter line-up – the first two generations were available only in rear- and all-wheel drive.
The FWD van is available from £24,350 and offers a 50kg payload increase, 0.5m3 more load space and 80mm lower loading height than RWD models. Notwithstanding the payload advantage, Mercedes says the FWD Sprinter will also show its advantages over RWD when lightly loaded with the greater weight on the front axle improving traction and handling on slippery surfaces.
There is plenty of power on tap, making the van a strong motorway performer. Even without a heavy load the van remains composed and does not bounce about.
The new auto gearbox is impressively slick but the Iveco Daily’s eight-speed Himatic transmission may still just have the edge when it comes to smooth delivery of power.
Light electric power steering makes for relaxing city driving, as does the excellent reversing camera that enables the driver to see what’s going on behind, but on open roads there’s not much feedback from the steering and, surprisingly, there was quite a bit of wind noise that had us checking to see if the windows were tightly closed.
Otherwise, for sophistication and comfort the Sprinter’s cab raises the bar in the large van segment, a statement that could, arguably, apply to the model line-up as a whole.